KidPad: A Design Collaboration Between Children, Technologists, and Educators


In the fall of 1995, an interdisciplinary, intergenerational collaboration was begun between the University of New Mexico's Computer Science Department, the College of Education, and local Albuquerque elementary school children. The focus of this collaboration was to use emerging new technologies developed by computer science researchers, to create new learning environments for elementary school children. Rather than developing new technologies and then later asking children for their feedback long past the completion of the initial design stages, we chose to establish a collaboration with children at the onset of our research.

Traditionally, researchers have observed children using technology tools, and when appropriate, asked them to take tests using standardized instruments [8, 9, 13, 18]. Such technology evaluations may be well-suited to understanding the impact a specific technology can have on a child's learning, but it can do little to tell researchers what new technologies should be created for the future. While children may not be programmers or engineers, they are experts in what they want and why they want it. We believe that children have a great deal to say about the world they live in and the technologies they use [7]. Therefore, it is critical to find methodologies that support a child's role in the design process. We have begun to combine participant observation techniques with participatory design experiences. In this way, we believe we can better understand what children may do with technology, and what they may want to do with it in the future.

With this in mind, researchers from the College of Education and the Computer Science Department worked for six months with 48 local elementary school children (ages 8-10). Initially, as a way to explore the children's interests, we had them use an existing version of Pad++: software developed by researchers at the University of New Mexico and New York University which replaces windows with a zooming information environment [2]. Instead of double-clicking through piles of folders and icons, the children drew, wrote stories, and zoomed through their information space. While Pad++ was not designed to be a tool for children, researchers saw the possibilities for future changes and developments appropriate for children. Participant observation, video taping, and researcher notes were used to understand the children's technology experience. From these observations, a new set of Pad++ tools (initially called KidPad Local Tools) was developed [3]. Children then worked with these new tools to continue their story-writing experiences.

After a few months, the KidPad child users were asked to describe their own "dream" KidPad environments. The children brainstormed with researchers, drew storyboards, wrote explanations, and presented their work. These concrete design suggestions motivated a new version of KidPad. With this new version, again, researchers worked with children to analyze the potential for future development. In the design briefing that follows, a summary of our iterative design experience, interdisciplinary/intergenerational collaboration, and the results will be discussed.






User Profile






Design Process




Goals for Development


Design Evolution